John R. Lamb

The Carnival of Blood said to be bathing the mining town of Unity continued with the September 25, 1897, murder of Charles Abraham Jackson by John Lamb, who became “the sixth negro to be arraigned in criminal court for murder since July 12. Like all the Unity crowd, he is a burly negro, vicious in appearance.”


The circumstances of the murder are not entirely clear. Lamb, Jackson, and many others were part of a group drinking, talking, and gambling in the mining camp where they lived and worked when a fight began.

There appears to have been a longstanding conflict between Lamb and some women who were part of that group. It is reported that the women may have testified against Lamb for a previous alcohol-related offense. Lamb apparently threatened the women. Frank Grimes interfered and was shot. Jackson, who was nearby Grimes, was also shot, fatally.

Captured by miners and turned over to the police, Lamb claimed that he shot Jackson in self-defense. As testimony to the lethal combination of a highly charged white public and criminal justice system and a poor, black, and socially isolated defendant, Lamb was indicted two days after the murder and convicted of first-degree murder on October 13, less than three weeks after Jackson’s killing.

At trial, numerous eyewitnesses testified against him. Statements Jackson provided to police before he died were also admitted into evidence.

Pittsburgh Daily Post, October 12, 1897

Lamb was sentenced to death on November 13.

An itinerant laborer, Lamb had no friends or family for support. In a frank acknowledgement of the role of money in capital case processing, the Pittsburgh Press noted that “being without money, it was impossible for the condemned man to avail himself of the usual appeal to the pardon board, and the supreme court.”

Pittsburgh Daily Post, April 22, 1898

John Lamb went to the gallows on April 21, 1898. Accounts indicate he died particularly slowly, strangled to death.


Author: Bill Lofquist

I am a sociologist and death penalty scholar at the State University of New York at Geneseo. I am also a Pittsburgh native. My present research focuses on the history of the death penalty in Allegheny County (Pittsburgh), Pa. This website is dedicated to collecting, analyzing, and sharing information about all Allegheny County cases in which a death sentence was imposed. Please share any questions or comments, errors or omissions, or other matters of interest related to these cases or to the broader history of the death penalty in Allegheny County.

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